North Carolina legislators passed a bill last month that prevents colleges and universities from requiring students to provide their passwords to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. The law was drafted in response to a student-athlete handbook rule forcing athletes to choose an administrator or coach to monitor their social media accounts throughout the academic year.
In Oregon, a bill currently working its way through the legislature would bar state institutions from asking prospective students for their social media log-in information as a condition of applying to the school. Similar legislation is also being considered in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Those states should be commended for getting out in front of an issue that will likely become bigger in coming years.
For all the attention it gets, social media is still in its infancy, and the limits of its use remain to be determined. Certainly, when someone uses these networks to harass or bully others, or post libelous messages, the poster should be addressed through proper channels, whether it is an administrative hearing or legal action. Likewise, an intervention may be necessary if someone hints that they may harm themselves.
But I believe this oversight can be achieved without requiring password access to someone’s account. Sure, the argument can be made that the school’s network resources are being used—and to that point, schools have every right to protect their property and themselves from legal action—but posts can just as easily be made outside the network, from home or from a cell phone.
Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the like function as public diaries. Yes, students (and faculty for that matter) should realize that what they post can be seen by the public and potential employers. We’ve heard many stories of students and teachers being reprimanded or fired for posting a photo that someone, somewhere, deemed inappropriate. Common sense says that you shouldn’t post things that you wouldn’t want others to see. Still, they do. In the end, it is their “property” and they have the right to free expression. If they embarrass themselves in these forums, they will have to face the consequences. It isn’t, and shouldn’t become, the job of a college or university to monitor that.
There are boundaries that should be exercised in the use of social media, and most people observe those out of hand. For a school to assume the role of social network “nanny” and claim the right to have access to social media passwords and, in effect, control content is wrongheaded.
Beginning with our July issue, this page will be replaced by a new feature called “On Topic,” a Q&A interview with an education thought leader or newsmaker. I’m excited by the people we have lined up already, and I invite your suggestions for future interviews. Send an email or call and let me know who you think we should feature.
Also, our “End Note” page will be replaced by a new column called “At Large” by Editor Emeritus Gil Dyrli, who has served as a writer, columnist, and editor at UB over many years. An education industry veteran, Gil is emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut, and a trustee of Messiah College (Pa.). We’re glad to have him back in the fold.
And finally, in this issue, you’ll notice that we have changed the name of Jim Scannell and Kathy Kurz’s regular “Money Matters” column to “Enrollment Matters.” We believe this better reflects the authors’ expertise. Let us know what you think.